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Nail Polish Finishes Explained

Nail polish finishes have come a long, long way since I was a young girl.  We had cream, sheer and frosted.  (Oh boy, I’m probably showing my age, LOL.)  Nowadays, nail polish finishes are totally amazing!  If you’re not familiar with the kinds of polish finishes, here are some explanations.

Nail Polish Finishes

  • Cream:  It’s creamy looking, and usually opaque in two coats.  There are no “special effects” like glitter, shimmer, metallic, etc.  This is probably the most common finish.
  • Crelly:  It’s a cross between a cream nail polish and a jelly nail polish.
  • Chrome or Foil:  Is more metal looking than even a metallic.  Foils can be temperamental; some require a special base coat and many specify that no top coat be used.  They don’t tend to wear very well…but the effect of the foil colors are dramatic!
  • Duochrome:  This is a dichroic effect — it reflects different colors depending on the angle at which you view the polish.
  • Frosted:  Tends to be sheer, and in lighter tones.  It has more “glimmer” than a shimmer, but less than a metallic.  This used to be very popular, but is less so these days.
  • Glitter:  A polish that has glitter suspended in it.  The glitters may be fine or large in size, and can come in many different shapes.
  • Gloss or Glossy:  This finish has a high shine.
  • Holographic:  A holographic finish reflects the colors of the spectrum as you move your fingernails back and forth.  The effect can be linear or scattered.  Linear tends to give the most dramatic spectrum.
  • Jelly:  A jelly polish is a very sheer polish that is see-through, but has color.  The most common example is to think about Jell-O — it has color, but you can see through it.  Jelly polishes are great for jelly sandwiches, pond manicures and for changing the color of your base nail polish.
  • Matte:  A matte finish has no gloss or shine to it; it is more of a “flat” finish, but it can provide wonderful special effects.
  • Metallic:  More of a metallic look than a frosted, and can come in both light and deep shades.  Many times very vibrant in color.
  • Satin:  This is halfway between a gloss and a matte finish.
  • Shimmer:  A shimmer polish has tiny reflecting particles, typically in a cream base.  They are more subtle than a frost.

Two things that aren’t exactly finishes as much as formulas are the terms “opaque” and “sheer”.

A nail polish is opaque if does not let the nail bed or tips show through.   A good opaque polish will cover in two coats; some are even opaque in one coat!

A sheer polish is very translucent, and take three or more coats to be fully opaque.  Some never quite get there!

That’s a quick overview of nail polish finishes.   Hope you’ve found this helpful!

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